Employee "buy-in," education, union coordination help launch successful maintenance management program for Silicon Valley City

John Betonte, P.E., Maintenance Manager, City of Fremont, California
Nicholas T. Nguyen, Senior Associate, LA Consulting, El Segundo, California

The City of Fremont, California has implemented an innovative maintenance management approach that has dramatically improved operations and resulted in annual six-figure cost savings.

Fremont, population 200,000, is located about 30 miles southeast of San Francisco. The city is the Bay Area's fifth largest and ranks 14th in size statewide, 94th nationwide. The Maintenance Services Division (MSD) maintains over 460 centerline miles of road, 70,000 traffic signs, 800 acres of parkland, and 800,000 square feet of facility space. The MSD employs approximately 122 full-time maintenance personnel and an additional 15-20 seasonal and temporary workers.

Public works maintenance departments continually process a large number of service requests, second usually only to a city's police department. But with city budgets by and large not getting any bigger, and in many instances even shrinking, maintenance operations by necessity must become more cost-effective and efficient.

With that in mind, in 1999 the MSD began implementing a comprehensive maintenance management approach that included new management processes and a computerized work and asset management software system.

Management Processes
The MSD sought to build a framework to effectively oversee the City's infrastructure maintenance needs through its managers and field supervisors. It did so by implementing procedures of the four fundamental keystones of management: planning, organizing, directing, and controlling. Planning sets the vision. Organizing allocates the resources. Directing accomplishes the tasks. And finally, controlling reviews whether it has accomplished what it has planned.

Within the MSD, the planning effort involves determining major maintenance activities performed, defining activity guidelines, obtaining resource information, performing a general condition assessment, and establishing levels of effort for maintenance.

This comprehensive activity-based approach allows a work plan and budget to be established. Upon completion of the process, the planning effort determines the amount of work to be performed on an annual basis for the agency.

The next phase (organizing) further divides the work program into work to be performed on a monthly basis. This phase enables the work calendar and resource requirements (i.e., labor, equipment, and materials) to be determined for each month. The direction phase integrates the calendar, work request, routine maintenance programs, and work backlog to generate a schedule. The schedule is then used for more effective assignment of work.

The completed work is recorded and entered into a computerized maintenance management software system. A series of reports are then generated to give supervisors the planned versus actual effort of maintenance. Finally, the information is used to evaluate the field effort in order to improve performance. Actual accomplishment information derived from the reports is used in each year's updating process.

Management Software
The adoption of new maintenance management processes required by the MSD staff wasn't an overnight success—education, facilitation and relationship building were important, as well as the management control software.

The MSD understood at the onset that software was only an "enabler" or tool towards improvement and progress. The right software matching its newly enhanced management processes, and effective implementation of the system were required.

A cost-effective DOS-based software package was eventually selected and installed. Designed as an activity-based maintenance management system, it provides the City with powerful planning capabilities, workload distribution, scheduling features, work order processing and management, and work performance analysis tools. Management established the maintenance plans each year and reviewed performance data (which was regularly shared with the staff). Playing an equally important role is the rank and file personnel who reported daily work activities with relative accuracy.

Last year the City replaced their MMS software to align itself with its overall information technology "master plans." After undertaking another comprehensive selection process, the MSD seamlessly migrated to a powerful 32-bit, ODBC-compliant, Windows-based software system that is also capable of web-based operation for remote use, GIS (Geographical Information System) integration for visual representation, asset management, and PDA (personal data assistant) integration for work assignment and data entry. Other key features of the system include:

  • The ability to plan maintenance work by activity for one or more years to project resource needs based on asset inventory and effort levels to generate a zero-based budget.

  • The ability to track maintenance work by activities without the need to create work orders.

  • When required for customer service reason and special internal tracking purposes, the ability to generate and track work orders with quick access to completion and cost information exists. Automated updating of customers can also be accomplished.

  • The ability to generate plan versus actual performance data through "canned" and easy to produce ad-hoc reports to gauge whether department goals are being met.

  • The ability to operate over a client-server network and terminal service for web-based use.
A Win-Win for All
The maintenance management practices implemented by MSD have resulted in a number of benefits for the City.

During the first year alone, efficiency savings averaged approximately 11 percent for all maintenance activities, which translates to about $400,000 annually.

The City's street sweeping operation is an ideal example of the department's marked improvements. Before the implementation of the MMS, the City never tracked the actual performance of its maintenance activities. Although the street sweeping operation was well defined with monthly routes, good equipment, and a professional staff, no one really knew whether operators were working optimally or not, or whether the operation as a whole was competitive.

At the time, when asked how many miles they sweep in a day, operators answered, "I don't really know...I just sweep my route."

So to initially baseline the operation, an average daily production performance measure was established at 20 swept-miles per day. By the end of the first year, the measure was up to 23.3 swept-miles per day. At the end of the following year (2000-01), the measure increased again to 26.8 swept-miles; a performance increase of 17 percent. Since then the measure has risen again to 29.3 swept-miles per day. In sum, the operation has seen an approximate improvement savings of over $119,000, which will recur annually if the current performance level is maintained.

These improvements were realized not by necessarily working harder but by working smarter and paying attention to the work itself. Maintenance supervisors and their crews now actively focus on the details, lay out their work in a systematic way through improved scheduling techniques, review their performances monthly, and make any necessary changes to their work methods to achieve the highest possible results. The new dynamics within the operation reflect an empowerment of the staff that is real and accepted.

Implementation Pitfalls and Issues
Although now highly successful, the City's maintenance management system was not instantly accepted. Change, especially in the work environment, can be stressful. Some of the key issues that should be observed during any implementation include:

  • Concern — initial reactions of fear, insecurity, and general displeasure of change will typically be observed. Questions of why management is instituting work tracking procedures and performance reviews will need to be addressed.

  • Resistance — concern eventually will lead to resistance. The "old way is fine," but in reality it is not.

  • Apathy — resistance may manifest itself in the form of apathy. The lack of interest to participate in the implementation process from line staff to superintendents may become evident.

  • Sabotage — the implementation process hinges, in part, in collecting data from many stakeholders. Some participants may not be forthcoming with data.
To address these employee concerns, the City focused on the following:
  • Employee involvement — employees were encouraged to participate in the planning, design and implementation of the maintenance management system. They helped set the work standards and they provided the work plan.

  • Education and commitment — the key to addressing all of the above was to continually educate the staff on why it is necessary to institute these management procedures and what they are used for. Speed and commitment are also important. The sooner the approach is in place the sooner you can provide your staff with feedback. Leading by example is paramount. Any lack of senior management participation is a call for apathy.

  • Employee buy-in and empowerment — by successfully educating the staff on the purpose of the new approach and facilitating the behavioral changes, the staff will begin to understand the intent, take ownership of their work, and contribute to the success of the organization.

  • Union coordination — Effective discussions through a series of meetings with the union stewards and the local union business representative allowed them to raise their concerns. These were not "meet and confer" or "bargaining" sessions since the scope of the maintenance management process is within management's right to organize the work, but they were used to elicit concerns and provide a sounding board for the union as an institution.
In sum, to overcome any potential resistance it is critical to comprehensively outline the processes to be implemented and establish a level of trust with the staff.

Although the initial effort met with some resistance, education and the development of trust among the stakeholders resulted in empowering the staff and a general "buy-in" of the entire approach. Moreover, it has resulted in $400,000 in annual savings for the City.

Recognizing the successes and marked improvement of the systematic approach towards maintenance, City officials have also increased the MSD's budget and staff.

Fremont now has in place a comprehensive maintenance management system and a powerful software package that helps the Maintenance Services Division more effectively plan, organize, direct, and control maintenance operations.

To reach John Betonte, P.E., send e-mail to JBetonte@ci.fremont.ca.us. To reach Nicholas T. Nguyen, send e-mail to nnguyen@laconsulting.com.